Madras High Court dismisses PIL seeking ban on online games

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The Madras High Court on Thursday refused to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) petition that highlighted the issue of addiction to online games among children and young adults, a report on Bar and Bench said.

The plea (E Martin Jayakumar v. The Government of India and ors) cited two main issues. First, it sought a direction to ban online and offline video games and second to it wants implemented a framework to monitor computers, mobile phones or other devices that offer such addictive games.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy junked the PIL and stated that the petitioner should take up this issue with the government first. The court also opined that it does not have appropriate expertise since it a policy-related matter.

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“Courts should be slow in entering into such areas on the personal sense of morality of the individual complainant or the judge or judges concerned. There is no doubt that when there is some illegal action or something which is detrimental to larger public interest, courts intervene; but in matters of the present kind, especially when elected governments are in place, such matters of policy should be left to wisdom of those representing the people … instead of court issuing a diktat,” the court further highlighted.

The Bench opined that it is the duty of the court to step in when there is a danger to society on account of the executive’s failure to act

“At least at the initial stage, the duty of court should be to direct complainants to the executive for a more wholesome and studied policy decision to the taken by the executive than may be possible at any Court,” the Court further added.

Some of the concerns raised by the petitioner with regards to addiction to technology, however, found favor with the Court.

“There is no doubt that children and young adults these days are addicted to their phones and their worlds appear to revolve around their mobile phones. Oftentimes a family could be together and sitting at a table but each member using the phone even if to describe the dish that they may be having or the quality of the food at the moment,” the Court noted.

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The Bench disposed of the matter by allowing the petitioner to make a representation within 4 weeks to both the the Union government and the State on the issue. The authorities have been directed to file a response to the petitioner’s representation within 8 weeks of its receipt.

The order wouldn’t prevent more such petitions being filed until the executive acts, the Court clarified.

According to the order, the petitioner’s issues included the addiction of children and young adults to online games, especially during the pandemic wherein schools have remained shut for the most part. The petitioner also highlighted the severe impact addiction can have on young adults during the career building stage of their lives.

While Advocate Selvi George appeared for the petitioner, the respondents were represented by Advocates K Srinivasamurthy and P Muthukumar.

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Last year, a Bench comprising of Justices N Kirubakaran and N Pugalendhi had raised concerns over the unregulated online gaming industry, especially “online gambling” that included online rummy and poker. The Bench also heard PILs against such games as well celebrities endorsing them.

With this turning a hot button issue, the State introduced a ban on online online rummy and poker via an ordinance that was subsequently introduced as a Bill.

As things stand, the Bill is under challenge, Madras High Court, by online rummy and online poker operators. Interestingly, even this challenge is being heard before the Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy and listed for further hearing on 5 July.